The Felice Brothers, Caitlin Harnett & The Pony Boys
For over a decade, The Felice Brothers have been one of the most consistently fascinating acts on the Americana music scene. Each album they release seems to inhabit it’s own small world, built on the kaleidoscopic beat poetry of Ian Felice and the band’s ability to shift between bare-boned folk music and rowdy rock ’n’ roll. With a new rhythm section in tow this was a chance to experience the latest incarnation of the band that is centred around Ian and brother James Felice.
Opener Caitlin Harnett has a new single due out any day now and it’s a sign of what we can expect from her new, highly anticipated new album with her band The Pony Boys. There is less of the folk tradition in her songwriting now, more melancholic alt-country, with a great band behind her adding detail and depth to her songs.
The Felice Brothers have always dealt in contrasts when it comes to their live shows. The introspective, almost shy, sometimes dismissive stage manner of Ian Felice versus James’ outward enthusiasm and grander gestures, especially when wielding his accordion. The songs also inhabit both ends of the spectrum. From stately and sparse folk to rough and rollicking electric rock ’n’ roll.
The new members – drummer Will Lawrence and more recently Jesske Hume on bass, bring some essential skills to the current sound. Four part harmonies for one, giving weight and colour to the band’s choruses. They’re an impressively versatile rhythm section too.
The set on this night was a rapid fire journey across all of their albums but weighted towards their most recent release, Undress. Most of the record was played with songs taking on a greater urgency courtesy of the energy of the band and a sound mix that leaned towards a brittle and raw sound. Particular highlights were the rousing ‘Salvation Army Girl’, the minimal and striking ‘Nail It On First Try’, Ian’s tumbling and fun wordplay on ‘Days Of The Years’ which was transformed into a adrenalised shakedown. ‘Special Announcement’ was another that was kicked into a higher gear, railing at the powers that be. Heading into the back catalogue, we were treated to ‘Frankie’s Gun’ and ‘Whiskey In My Whiskey’ from their self-titled album, ‘Aerosol Ball’, ‘Cherry Licorice’ and many more.
That sound mix I mentioned took a few songs to get used to, and they had to deal with some bass amp issues, but when it all fell into line it sounded something like a late-night summit featuring The Band and The Pogues kicking out the jams with The Velvet Underground in the back room of a juke joint. There was the passion of James Felice’s playing and voice, the poetic, bedraggled and passionate rasp of Ian’s singing, combined with his scratchy, distorted and percussive guitar style that sounded like it was going to derail the songs in glorious fashion.
The Felice Brothers – still an exceptional and exhilarating folk rock sound to behold.